Challenging the way we have always done it

I just found again this video and got instantly hooked by it again. It struck as a very true fact of our business life: going to to office can sometimes get in the way of working.

So it got me thinking that maybe this also happens in the learning process for adults. I can speak to my own experience as a student. I love going to classes because I love to have the opportunity to get my questions answered immediately, I love the opportunity of debating and listening to other people’s outlook.

But I hate to do actual study work in the classroom. I’d be so much more comfortable at home or even in a Café, where I can have something to drink, sit in a comfortable chair etc. You get the idea. Also, if I am near a computer, I can instantly look for references to feed my mind and be ready to ask the actual questions.

So why is that we try to squeeze all of learning into these face-to-face events? Why is it that we try to reproduce these face-to-face events, ignoring a greater part of the richness of the interaction in favor of simple lectures into the online learning environment? I am thinking here of simple online WBTs, which try to replace classes that were ineffective in the first place.

We have tools to have the absolute best of all worlds, if we choose to use them. I vote for not being afraid of the term PRE-WORK. I vote for making an effort to having the basic information, with a pedagogical approach, available for students online. I vote for instructing students on which materials to look for, in what preferred order. And then having face-to-face forums, where people can ask their questions and make progress quickly.

That’s the richness of being together in the same room: it’s the ideas that come up after listening to colleagues, it’s the planning for the next steps and debating of approaches. But students also need to be ready to enter this room, otherwise the whole class is forced to waste time while a few stragglers catch up.

Learning is also about personal responsibility for adults. You can’t just force learning on someone who isn’t interested. So what does this mean for us, learning professionals?

The dream: to completely redo the curriculum available for students of any subject and bring the content assets into a dynamic learning environment, in which people not only can easily search for content, but also interact with tutors, teachers and, of course, each other. Then, periodically, they would meet – either in person or virtually – with their teacher and fellow students. I personally like constant testing and exercises for longer subjects, but when we are dealing with simpler, shorter content from your usual corporate university, one test should be enough.

I realize that none of this is breaking news. It just bothers me that most of us know this and still we are unable to make it work. Either we are stuck with old ways which would be too costly to change, or we have trouble getting the right management support for structural changes.

Sometimes we see new companies starting out with ideas which we know are outdated, but still we persist. How can you, me, and everyone get the change started?

Rio+Social

This is a very big week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. World leaders are gathered in the city for Rio+20, an event to talk about sustainable development and what progress was made in this area around the world since the first global conference on the topic, Eco 92, exactly twenty years ago. The official reports are many, and very disappointing. Not only did we not advance much in making the world cleaner, healthier and more balanced, but we still have similar environmental challenges that we did 20 years ago – only with a lot more people on the planet.

This sounds bleak, but there are some reasons to hope. I was invited to be a part of Rio+Social, a parallel event that focused on discussing how social media can help and affect change all over the world, making sustainability not just a trending topic, but also actually being an essential part of the innovative processes that might help out. The more immediate results of the event was the 6-minute collaborative speech, written by people all over the world using their website. Sending a message from the common people to world leaders like this would not have been possible 20 years ago.

The whole event was streamed online, and you can still watch here panels and lectures from people like the Mashable CEO, the Ericsson CEO, the former New Zealand Prime Minister, the former President of Costa Rica, and so on. The main message is this: now that we have the power to be heard, what are we going to do about it? Also, social media is not just a huge, free megaphone for different kinds of activism. You can bring people together, you can teach people, you can plan actions and talk to your government representatives. You can also engage with non-profit organizations to find out what kind of contribution you can make. And there is also the very large websites for theUN and Unicef, which both have a lot of information and space for collaboration.

It was inspiring to hear stories like the project from Ericsson that helps refugees in camps in Africa to find their long-lost relatives by sending out their profile information through SMS. One of the things that really stood out for me was how critical the most simple of technologies can be in a large-scale action. Refugees in Africa do not have the latest smart phones and would not benefit from a high tech phone app, but they do have millions of basic mobile phones that can transmit information at a low cost. They can receive important information at zero cost, if only the phone companies can be persuaded to help out and send out a message. How much health information could be readily available for the most humble of mothers if they can get one of our old mobile phones?

One of the most interesting panels brought together 4 youngsters from all over the world (Brazil, Nigeria, Sweden, China) to talk to elders, who happened to be former world leaders, such as the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, and the former Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Brundtland. The conversation was about how different generations can learn from each other, inspire each other, and make a difference together. Very, very inspiring stuff.

Whenever we see stories on the news about Facebook or other trendy social media websites, we rarely see the community aspect of those. Stories focus on the profile building, self-promoting side of those networks, which does exist. But they can be so much more, just as we see right here, in HP Connections. It can be a live community, with common goals and beliefs. It can be a way to find neighbors, even if they live thousands of miles away. It can give you access to relevant information that will make your life better, and positively affect the lives of those around you.

One of the best examples of this in real life that I know of is a Facebook app created by a Brazilian company. Izzui was created to allow people to share knowledge for free in WBT format. They provide the WBT creation tool, which absolutely anyone is able to use, it is very easy. And then you publish your course in Facebook and anyone with an FB account can take the course. Isn’t it nice? I guess that this initiative would fall into what Muhammad Yunus would call Social Business. It is not that this company created and maintains this app totally out of charity. They have business goals and they aim at some profit. But their product can also benefit the community, while making them richer.

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Another interesting aspect that was discussed was the impact of women in their communities. Being mothers, sisters and wives, educated women can greatly impact the lives of all around them. Nurturing culture and motivating their families to better themselves, women are key in areas of low income. It pays to educate the girls, which can be a challenge still in some countries. Educated women change the society in which they live, but also have a better birth survival rate, and their kids survive their first five years more often. They have less kids, too. Looking at the numbers, it becomes really clear that fighting to help free women from cultural (or actual) slavery really has a positive impact on society and the environment.

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All of this goals would greatly benefit from the help of business people. Not just in the financial side, but looking at the goals with business strategy in mind and helping trace a path to achieving them. One of the things mentioned by the CEO of Ericsson was that getting involved is not just about giving money. Helping people with good intentions get organized and being practical can make all the difference.

It was a true privilege to be there, but most of all it was inspiring. I have my own small modest plans of what I can do to help. Now I`d love to see some more people getting inspired too. Take a look at the event factsheet to know more about the people there and the goals. Check out the videos and I am sure you will feel inspired too.

Big data can be funny too

Yesterday was a day of big findings on YouTube, thanks to my friends on G+. Among those was this funny video with a presentation on TEDxBoston about big data analysis.

Big data has been a hot topic on IT circles and there’s a lot of talk about what the future would look like in a world of data in unthinkable scale. But it was a bit hard for me to transform these articles into clear visions of the results one could benefit from this.

These two guys analysed the data collected by Google’s project of digitalizing books. See what they found out:

Isaac Asimov predicts the future

This is absolutely one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in YouTube. In 1988, Isaac Asimov talked on TV about the future of learning with computers. Check it out:

(subtitles in Portuguese)

Now, 24 years later, we have achieved part of this. Almost everyone in some countries has access to a computer. We have the whole e-learning industry, learning for adults etc. And we have the internet. But we don’t have all that many structured, online courses that are as fluid as what he describes. And it is certainly not as fun, not as engaging.

I look forward to following this vision. It is amazing and seductive. I feel proud to be a part of this world.

Five predictions for the future of education

I came across this interesting article about five trends in education that may seem a little off, but actually are very likely. There’s a couple very interesting points in there that I’ve been thinking about.

First, the article here.

I personally love the idea of micro-location learning, and would like to explore more of this. We spend so much time trying to figure out how to make learning more personal, interactive and “on the job”. Maybe this is part of the answer, maybe we can create real life scenarios without building expensive 3D simulations.

I can remember when I was a kid, I used to love treasure hunts. And it is now not impossible to imagine a creative, technology-enabled treasure hunt around the office, the university, the school, a museum etc. The bonus part is that we can get a real engagement from people who are either not comfortable with technology or are even illiterate! Anyone can follow audio instructions around a building, everyone can explore with their own eyes, hands, feet. Also, it doesn’t have to be a mandatory or group activity. It can be a job aid, part of a welcome kit… The possibilities are awesome, I get lit up just thinking about it!

The second interesting thing in the article for me is the part on open content. I’ve been exploring some of the open content from US Universities offered online (like MIT, Yale etc.) and I love it. Still, it looks and feels dry. Ok, it’s free so it’s only natural that there isn’t much effort to make it attractive and particularly different from taped classes. But I’d love to see a bit more effort into it, even if only for the students of these fine establishments to practice new ways to learn. I look forward to seeing some creativity on that front!

The way we learn

I’ve been thinking about how difficult it is for organizations to get their employees motivated to consume training materials. There are numerous strategies that can be used to get people’s attention, but why is it that we always start on the losing side? Why do we have to  sell the idea of training and development again and again if education and information are so obviously important to doing a good job nowadays?

Should be easier, I used to think. And then I came across this awesome video about human motivation:

It’s amazing because it rings true, even though we spend our lives chasing aspects of fulfillment that are actually secondary to the feeling of satisfaction with your work. So… what actually motivates you?

UPDATE: I got a comment asking me what was my line of thought when linking this video to the issue of learning. I think you have to be motivated to stop your work and pay attention to training event. If you don’t see value in training in the workplace, then you won’t want to take the time to actually do what’s suggested. The video does not show a solution, but a path to a possible solution. Maybe if we understand better what motivates people in the workplace, then we can think up new ways to show the value of training. If that is achieved, then you won’t have to prove over and over again the value of each piece of training delivered to your audiences. My hope is that audiences that already believe in training as a part of self-development and improving work are bound to be at least a bit more open minded to cultural and procedural changes, thus more receptive to training events and content.

Finding the right one for you

One of the main challenges I find in working with distance learning and online learning in general is culture shock. Not the common culture shock you’d find when people from different countries have to work together, but the abyss between IT people and Education/HR people.

Yes, we have very different backgrounds, different outlooks and expectations that vary wildly. Should that keep us from being able to speak the same language? Definitely not. Being able to communicate efficiently should beour main goal always, no matter what area we work in.

So what can we do on a daily basis to help this issue. Well, I can only talk about the Humanities side looking at IT with all the awe  and exasperation we feel. What has been working for me is this: always listen closely and try to find the right metaphor. Always ask questions when you don’t get something, don’t be afraid to show you don’t know some concept or idea. Always explain why you need something done and your reality. Make sure you speak and write objectively, learn a couple of their words and use it cautiously.

Read and learn. In the technology age, we have to know what a blog is and how people use it. We have to know  how a webiste works and the difference  between a website and a web-base system. Precisely because we decide how people learn, we have to be the best students. We have to experience the tools we want to make others use, we have to know what to ask for when requesting improvements or technical help.

Use google. Use wikipedia.

Sounds like a lot, but it’s knowledge I’ve never regretted having. Nor will I ever have enough knowledge of technology, so research becomes a daily task. Informal learning at it’s most simple version. Works for me!

A blog after all

It’s been many years since I first started to talk about blogging as a learning experience. It’s hardly an original idea, but it’s something I’ve personally seen working very well for others.

My own personal interests took me on a different route. But today I feel I need a driving force to keep me on my toes, to keep me open minded. My job is a bit more than a job, it’s part of a belief system that I’ve developed over the years. I believe in education. I believe in giving people the choice of how they want to learn. I believe strongly that information technology is revolutionary and mainly a positive influence on humanity. It’s our collective job to make it so and I struggle to give a tiny, tiny contribution.

So this is a space to think, a place to share what I’ve seen around and what I’d like to do. I’ll talk about learning, technology, digital media, collaboration and many other things. The goal is to find small, practical answers to our everyday challenges as educators, online tutors etc.

Please check out the About me page for a small bio. And please come often and comment. It’ll be nice to hear from you.